Dear Mr. Gold:
One of my favorite dishes is braised oxtail. Given how delicious oxtail is, it’s a wonder that I rarely see it on any menus. It seems to be an unsung meat in this country, which is a real shame. It probably suffers from bad PR given its accurate but unfortunate name. (I’m sure sweetbread got a lot more action after people stopped calling it pancreas of young animal.) One day, oxtail may be as widely available as veal chops or rack of lamb. Until then, could you recommend some restaurants that serve a good oxtail, preferably braised? Any cuisine is fine.
—Brenda, Los Angeles
One of my favorite restaurants in Rome, an expensive, offal-intensive trattoria in the old slaughterhouse district, decorates its souvenir plate with a drawing of a bemused cow looking back at the bandaged stump where its tail used to be — an artistic representation of its most famous dish: coda alla vaccinara,oxtail butcher’s style, stewed with tomatoes, celery and a hint of bitter chocolate. People aren’t quite as squeamish in Italy as they are here, I guess. But there is oxtail out there if you are willing to look for it. Somebody must be cooking it — in the butcher shops that carry it, the bony, gelatinous cut is occasionally more expensive than steak. Cuban restaurants often have stewed oxtail, rabo encendido, on their list of specials, and the original Versailles on Venice near Motor has it on its regular menu. Jamaican restaurants usually serve oxtail stew — I like the bean-intensive version at Natraliart on Washington near Fifth Avenue in midtown — and soul-food places serve it too: Try the original M&M down on Avalon, where it is soft as meat-scented air. Fred 62 used to serve an oxtail sloppy joe, but I think they gave it up a while ago. But for the Italian recipe that is perhaps the summit of world tail cookery, you might want to try the coda alla vaccinara at La Botte in Santa Monica, where large, pillowy hunks of tail nestle into soft, yellow puddles of polenta, gooey on gooey and rich on rich, exactly what you want with a glass of Barolo if somebody else is paying. La Botte, 620 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 576-3072.
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